So you think your lost?
You have just realised that there is no track, no markers .. and the panic starts to well…
There is a good chance you are not actually lost yet, rather have temporarily lost your Positional Awareness.
Exactly how your scenario plays out, will depend entirely on the facts in your story, but surrendering to your panic will only reduce your chances dramatically.
This post is about the foundations of staying in control and recovering your situation.
How to Recover before you get Lost
Rule 1: Never discard any of your equipment, in this situation every thing becomes a resource.
The first thing to do is control the panic before it sabotages your clear head!
Put your pack on the ground and sit on it.(insulation)
Put on some warm clothes.
Have a snack or make your self a warm drink if you can.(start rationing your food also)
Relax your mind for 20-30 minutes. (try concentrating on isolating the sounds and scents around you.)
Remember, you are the top predator in New Zealand forest so feel like the boss!
Once you have re-centered your mind its time to start working on your recovery;
Rule 2: Think carefully before you act, slow every action down.(makes more time)
Can you recognize the direction you came in, to this point?
Moving back in this direction can you recognize any features, plants, fallen trees or terrain you remember passing.
While retracing your route, mark your route so you can retrace your steps as required.(hang toilet paper, cloth, bend branches un natural, flip sliver ferns.)
Ideally as a hiker you can read a topographical map, compare the terrain to the map and see if you can recognise your location?(*1)
It is very easy to step right over a more overgrown track with out even noticing it, stay alert and check left and right every time you find bare or worn ground ahead.
Any time you feel the panic rising again – stop and rest- refocus.
Rule 3: Looking for a track is a day light only activity.
Two to three hours before the sunlight is lost, change your focus to preparing to stay the night.
The best camp site in these circumstances is on the edge of a clearing so that it is easy to signal searching aircraft, so if you are close to;
- The top of a hill (summit)
- Open valley floor
- River bed(never sleep in a river bed!
Make your camp in the tree line, so you can get to the clear area rapidly if you hear an aircraft near by.
If the ideal location is not immediately available, then stay where you are for now as it is potentially close to the track you left.
The well equipped day hiker, should be able to raise a basic shelter from their gear with out too much difficulty. While the overnight hiker is likely to have all that is required.
Be aware that trying to light a fire in the New Zealand Native Rain Forest, (as you see in all the overseas survival videos) can be very difficult, unless you have had a lot of practice.
Rule 4: Always Complete Hiking Intentions before you leave home.
Once the alert time in your intentions has past, or you have activated a Personal Locator Beacon it is preference that you remain in the same location until found.
This is useful for conserving energy and food, but also makes the searchers job so much easier. The best plan is to stay off the ground in a sleeping position, and stay warm.
Listen out for voices, whistles or dogs – respond with whistle blasts – (whistle sound travels further and is more distinct than yelling or screaming.)
If you hear a helicopter flying in our area at night -wave the illuminated screen of your smart phone sky ward, it stands out to the crews night vision equipment exceptionally well. In day time use a signalling mirror.
- It is always good to keep your phone on flight mode while hiking as poor signal strength drains the battery. If you have minimal signal, take your phone off flight mode for a couple of hours after your intentions expire, and then 5-10mins at the top of the hour to conserve battery.
- If you hear an aircraft or helicopter circling in your area, take your phone off flight mode, as new technology has been developed so they can call you regardless of signal.
- Make a signal by spreading coloured clothing, tent fly, plastic shelter out on the ground and weigh down with heavy objects. Or use rocks and logs to write “Help,” in and open area.
Personal Locator Beacons are best set off in a location with a clear view of the sky, for the best signal and strobe function.
Make sure you have a good source of water, stay dry and warm.
Loosing your way outdoors, happens to everyone at some stage.(even experienced hikers)
It is wise to practice the skills you will need, like;
- Like erecting basic shelter
- Making a sleeping platform
- Making fire with a flint & in wet surroundings
- Rationing food and catching water
- Finding food (this is particularly difficult in New Zealand bush)
Rule 5: A familiar skill is and easy one to perform.
Practising in a safe environment with the gear you would normally carry on a hike also allows you to refine and improve your gear and learn to think laterally.
There is a huge range of you tube video’s demonstrating all manner of outdoors skills, watch them and most importantly try them.(some just don’t seem to work like the videos!)
Remember you don’t need to wear camouflage or carry a great big knife to perform any of these skills! (some of the video authors are a bit excitable;-)
*1 If you are using a GPS I am assuming you already know its limitations and how to use it to your advantage in this situation. I will cover GPS in future post.
Rule 6: Keep your eyes open – when it doesn’t look right stop and figure it out and you’ll never actually get lost;-)
- Landsar New Zealand
- Mountain Safety Council New Zealand
- Westpac Rescue Helicopter Crew, Auckland
- New Zealand Police